‘Allogrooming’ means social grooming between members of the same species. The origin of the word comes from ‘allo’ which in ancient Greek means ‘different’ or ‘other’. So it means grooming another animal.
One interpretation of allogrooming holds that it is accidental but I don’t get this. The proposition is that one cat grooms another because he wants to clean an area that smells the least clean but is unaware that it is not himself. No, this doesn’t sound right to me. There is clearly more behind it than that.
Allogrooming can follow a tail up greeting. This sort if greeting is friendly. Cats spend a lot of time licking themselves when at rest. It is therefore natural to lick another cat if they are close together. The allogrooming usually focuses on the top of each other’s heads – hard to get at places if self-grooming.
Research tells us that in all species allogrooming:
“has a profound social significance…especially in primates, in which it has been linked with pair-bonding, the building of coalitions and in reconciliations between family members who have recently quarrelled” (Dr Bradshaw in Cat Sense).
Bradshaw suggests that allogrooming performs the same function as mutual rubbing which is to enhance bonding (‘cementing an amicable relationship’).
In large groups of cats it takes place between relatives. Allogrooming can reduce conflict, it is believed. In colonies of cats created by cat sanctuaries aggression between cats is a potential problem as they are forced together. However, in these groups allogrooming is common. This indicates that it is used to reduce tensions.
Also the most aggressive cats do the lion’s share of allogrooming. It is thought that this is a way of saying an apology for a loss of temper. Also the recipient of grooming from an aggressive cat accepts it because he was recently attacked by the cat and being groomed is better than being attacked. This is allogrooming as an alternative to aggression. If this is correct, in this instance, allogrooming is a part of the dominance hierarchy in cat groups with one cat controlling others.
When a cat licks their owner strictly speaking it is not allogrooming as we are a different species. However (a) it is clearly a sign of friendship and bonding and (b) our cat, I would argue, sees us as a surrogate cat mother/father and therefore from the cat’s perspective it is allogrooming.